Montenegro becomes Europe's first coronavirus-free state, PM says

PODGORICA (Reuters) - Montenegro’s prime minister on Monday declared the country coronavirus-free - a move vital for its Adriatic tourism industry coming 69 days after it reported its first case and after 20 without a new one.

Montenegro has reported 324 confirmed cases of COVID-19 illness and nine deaths.

“The battle with such a vicious virus has been won and Montenegro now becomes the first coronavirus-free country in Europe,” Dusko Markovic, the Prime Minister told a news conference after meeting a body tasked with combating the disease.

Markovic started the news conference by taking off his face mask.

In early March, the Balkan republic of 620,000 people, which is reliant on revenues from tourism along its Adriatic coast, closed borders, airports and seaports, shut schools and banned public gatherings and outdoor activities to curb the spread of the virus.

The restrictions have been gradually eased since March 30. Markovic said Montenegro would open its borders to travellers from countries reporting no more than 25 cases of infection per 100,000 people - including Croatia, Albania, Slovenia, Germany and Greece.

To curb virus from spreading, Montenegro also made public its lists with names and addresses of people in self-isolation, something that drew criticism from rights watchdogs and kept an entire municipality in lockdown for weeks.

Montenegrin authorities have also fined or charged hundreds of people over failure to comply with the restrictions and sanitary measures.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; editing by John Stonestreet